Enrollment offsets concerns about Fort Polk deployment impact

In what might have been considered the most unlikely scenario, the Vernon Parish School System has this term reversed a student decline of the past three school years.

With an announced deployment of hundreds of Fort Polk troops, concern this summer was that the system could suffer a drastic enrollment drop, and the attendant funding spiral.

It didn’t happen.

The board learned at its agenda-setting session Thursday that the official Oct. 1 student count is 8,346. That’s two students above the count of last October.

Not only does it run counter to the projections of a large drop this term, it also reverses a three-year drop of about 100 students a year.

School officials credit a concerted effort by all aspects of the Leesville-Vernon Parish Community with convincing many dependent families to remain in the area rather than return to home areas while their husband/wife, mother/father is deployed.

Supt. James Williams, obviously happy with the official count, said a “safety net” plan nevertheless would be kept in place until the next official headcount in February.

Student count is vital to school systems because state funding is dependent in large part on it, with the state allocating dollars on a per-student basis. Parishes with military installations also received federal impact funding apportioned on the basis of number of military dependents enrolled in schools.

The board heard from Head Start Director Curtis Clay that 240 students are currently enrolled in this term’s program, with 28 families on the waiting list.

A waiver has been obtained that allows four-year-olds to ride on the parish buses, while three-year-olds still must be picked transported by parent or guardian.

Clay and Williams noted the parish’s goal is to have Head Start as a full-day program within the next three to five years.

Two policy changes required by state law will be on the Oct. 10 agenda.

The first incorporates provisions of Act 266 of this year, forbidding corporal punishment for any student with an exceptionality, other than gifted and talented.

The other, Act 341, provides students the right to bring to school and use sunscreen when engaged in outdoor activities. There is also a provision that allows a teacher to apply the ointment if permission is given by parent or guardian.